Body-positive Tess Holliday on the complexities of her eating disorder

"I would go all day without eating, and I would chalk it up to, 'I'm busy.' ... But the thing is I had hunger pain all day, and I was sick all day," the plus-size model said.
6:32 | 05/11/21

Coming up in the next {{countdown}} {{countdownlbl}}

Coming up next:



Skip to this video now

Now Playing:


Related Extras
Related Videos
Video Transcript
Transcript for Body-positive Tess Holliday on the complexities of her eating disorder
Reporter: Model Tess Holliday. Known for her bright red hair and body positivity. She has amassed over two million follow owners Instagram, and major brand partnerships. But below the surface, Tess says she has been suffering with an eating disorder. I wasn't taking care of myself in the way I needed. I wasn't looking after my mental health in the ways that I should have. I was always making sure everyone else's cup was full and I wasn't filling my own. So I think that's how I went so long without really being able to address, you know, myself andpmy disordered eating. Reporter: The 35-year-old mother of two says her decades long disordered eating caught up to her in the last year. I would go all day without eating. And I would chalk it up to I'm busy. I'm this. But the thing is, I had hunger pain all day, and I was sick all day. Oh, I'm busy. I'm a mom, I'm this. I'm working. I'll eat later. I'll eat later. But later never happened. And then at nighttime, you know, usually when my kids were in bed and coy settle, I would eat one meal, and then I would go to Reporter: Holliday sought help and now says she has a form of anorexia, a revelation that has received some support, as well as anger and skepticism. I am plus-sized, but advocating for diversity and larger bodies and so I think for people hearing me say I'm anorexic was really jarring and hard and confusing. I've had a lot of messages from folks that are anorexic that are livid and angry because they feel like I'm lying. What do you want to say to people who don't believe you, who are skeptical when you say you're anorexic? To folks that don't believe me, you know, that I'm anorexic and this is what I'm dealing with, it doesn't really matter because at the end of the day, this is my truth. If this resonates with you, if you need help, get help. If this helps you feel less alone, great. It's so much more powerful just to say hey, I'm hurting, and if you're hurting too, that's okay. You know? You don't have to do this alone. Tess having the willingness to speak out about her experience acknowledging some of the backlash that she's receiving is an indication of extraordinary bravery and an indication of, you know, her health and healing and some of her process. Tess confided in the counsel of Anna Sweeney, specializing in eating orders who says Tess has atypical anorexia. Atypical anorexia, which would imply the same physiological characteristics of anorexia nervosa, except for body size accounts for anywhere between 2 and 4% of the population. Tess says it was her psychologist who initially diagnosed her, a shock even for the model. I told the psychologist, well, I won't eat all day, you know. I'll maybe have coffee or maybe I'll have, you know, a handful of whatever is around me. And then at nighttime, I'll have my meal or snacks or whatever. So I thought that that meant that I was a binge eater, and the psychologist looked at me and said you're anorexic. And then I just started crying. She says online hate played into her struggles. Yeah, I am a model, right? I am successful. I've been doing this for a long I've been talking about, you know, self-acceptance and loving yourself and fat acceptance for Long time. But I still deal with it. I still get people that make me feel like . And that's okay. Because unfortunately, it's going to take a long time to change society's ridiculous standards. I have had people shouting at me my entire career that I do is sit around and eat, and I was starving. I was literally starving. And I didn't realize that that meant that I was anorexic. I didn't realize that I was mindfully restricting not You're saying you weren't purposely not eating in order to be skinny. If you're anorexic, it's a purposeful thing. I think I was almost punishing myself. And how long do you feel like you've been purposely punishing yourself? I've had an eating disorder since when my mom almost died when I was 10. That's when it happened. So from the age of 10 until now, I've struggled with disordered eating, with restrictive eating for the past decade. Eating disorders certainly do not occur for one simple reason. There are a million things that can go right for a person and one thing goes wrong. And eating disorder comes to fruition. And so certainly trauma can be an initiating factor. Reporter: Eating disorders are extremely common, and may affect one in every ten people. According to a study, about 9% of the U.S. Population, almost 29 million people will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. There is nothing but messaging that comes from the world that says the worst thing that can happen to you is you might live in a fat body. So if everyone is efforting to be smaller, smaller, smaller, smaller, smaller, and we know that's just not possible for most people. You can't look at someone and tell whether or not they're healthy. You just can't. I understand that people look at me and I don't fit what we have seen presented as the diagnosis for anorexia. But then for me, that tells me that there is a larger problem, which I've been actually saying for years is that we have a lack of diversity and representation in the world. Now in recovery, Tess says she is on a healthier path, which for her includes three meals a day and a focus on the future. I have been happier in the last six months through my recovery than I've been in my entire life. I feel whole. I feel at peace. I really feel in my power for the first time.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

{"duration":"6:32","description":"\"I would go all day without eating, and I would chalk it up to, 'I'm busy.' ... But the thing is I had hunger pain all day, and I was sick all day,\" the plus-size model said.","mediaType":"default","section":"ABCNews/Nightline","id":"77616756","title":"Body-positive Tess Holliday on the complexities of her eating disorder","url":"/Nightline/video/body-positive-tess-holliday-complexities-eating-disorder-77616756"}